“The gap is closing!” – it was the stock opinion that flooded the League of Legends community after North America’s promising opening week of the 2016 World Championship – before everyone quickly realised the gap was not closing after all, as all three Korean rosters advanced to the semifinals. Why can Western teams not compete with the might of Korea? One Taiwanese caster has suggested NA teams don’t take their work seriously enough.
South Korea has set the bar extremely high for their standards of professionalism within eSports, dominating the League of Legends scene for what seems set to be a fourth successive World Championship victory. Closing the gap on the Koreans has been the sole purpose of western teams for a number of years, with each season’s attempt at bringing down the titans falling flat on its face time and time again.
This season was supposed to be different – North America’s Team SoloMid became a carbon copy of a top Korean outfit in an attempt to match their efforts both on and off summoners rift. Success followed as TSM stood on the podium, head and shoulders above any other team in the NA LCS.
Team SoloMid were applauded for their professional approach to the summer split, with even Korean-centric analyst, Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles lauding the rosters commitment to 6-day working weeks, extensive backroom staff and lengthy practice hours.
In the end of course, it was all for nothing. TSM crashed out of Worlds 2016 at the group stages, with many western fans and analysts alike left in disbelief at their shortcomings. Outside of their evident in-game mistakes, Taiwanese caster and analyst, Clement Kaihsin Chu suggested that the entire approach to competitive play in North America is fundamentally lacking professionalism:
“Well, I think TSM is the one that really disappointed a lot of people – coming in here, they looked pretty strong.
“Overall I think the North American teams are not strict enough with their players. They don’t turn it up hard enough in the big tournaments.
“You look at the scrim teams, of course I’m not there every day, but usually it’s going to be SKT, EDG, and Flash Wolves that go in the earliest and leave the latest [for practice].”
Clement Kaihsin Chu
There’s certainly evidence to support the Taiwanese Caster’s claims. Team Liquid fans may well recall that their former coach, Mark “MarkZ” Zimmerman quit from his position as a team coach after becoming frustrated with the work-ethic of his players’ and the lack respect shown towards the authority of the coaching staff.
One of these frustrating moments was caught on camera as part of Team Liquid’s promotional content output: Timestamp – 1:08.
During the clip, MarkZ is looking to address some of the in-game issues the team is experiencing, wanted to talk specifically with Team Liquid mid laner, Kim “FeniX” Jae-hun. In response, both Fenix and former team captain, Christian “IWillDominate” Rivera shun the coaches attempt to improve the team’s strategy. It’s a small sample size, but if that is the mentality of the players of a top tier NA team (at the time), then it’s easy to see why the region is lagging so far behind South Korea:
“I couldn’t handle players any more – I cracked.
“I think a lot of players in the NA scene have very bad attitudes in team settings and its about how they manifest that attitude.
“I don’t have a problem with stress, or struggle, or working with a team, but you get to a point where some of the guys are knowingly and intentionally doing things that work counter to problem solving – I don’t want to work in an environment like that.”
Mark “MarkZ” Zimmerman, Former Team Liquid Coach
Coaches in Korea certainly do not have to work as hard for a player’s respect as their counterparts do in North America. But perhaps in aspiring to emulate the Korean approach to practice, North American teams are unwittingly self sabotaging their progress?
Living and breathing League of Legends 24 hours a day may work for Koreans, but the evidence suggests it doesn’t work for team’s in the west. It appears that for the most part, LCS teams are looking to simply follow the blueprint for competitive success, as outlined by the Korean region, rather than finding their own answers.
Attempting to simply replicate and impart one starkly contrasted cultural system into another, which is radically different, is never going to work. Koreans have an engrained culture of ‘grinding’ and working long hours, a practice that’s generally treated with negative prestige in the west.
Having respect for coaches and being strict with some aspects of a players’ life are obviously important to be competitive, but at the same time players need the chance to unwind and relax after the mental strain of competitive play and practice. Without these aspects of the widely appreciated western working culture, players risk burning out – just as we saw with Team SoloMid at the 2016 World Championship.